Ten years after mosque burns, India fears more violence

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 December, 2002, 12:00am

Troops have been moved into Ayodhya ahead of today's 10th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri mosque by Hindu mobs.

Fears that Islamic or Hindu hardliners will resort to violence to commemorate the anniversary have led to heightened security in Uttar Pradesh, the state where the pilgrimage town of Ayodhya is located.

Security has also been stepped up in New Delhi.

The right-wing World Hindu Council said it would mark the anniversary as 'Valoud Day', to honour Hindus killed during the demolition of the mosque.

On December 6, 1992, Hindu extremists spurred on by top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - then in opposition - razed the 16th century mosque at Ayodhya.

The act sparked weeks of nationwide Hindu-Muslim riots that left over 3,000 dead.

Authorities are not taking any chances this year because the anniversary coincides with Eid-al-Fitr, the biggest religious festival of India's 140 million Muslims.

Adding to the tension, the anniversary comes just six days before elections in Gujarat, where sectarian riots this year led to the deaths of 2,000 people, mostly Muslims.

Hindus believe the mosque was built on the site of a shrine marking the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram.

Religious minorities and secular Hindus believe the destruction of the mosque was the beginning of the end of Indian pluralism, which is enshrined in the constitution.

The BJP is committed to building a grand temple on the site dedicated to Ram, although the courts have banned any construction in the disputed area.

Analysts say that the BJP's obsession with the proposed temple is understandable, as it rose to power from the rubble of the destroyed mosque.

In its previous incarnation, the Jana Sangh party cut a sorry figure in election after election in Congress Party-ruled India.

In 1984, the BJP won only two parliamentary seats. Three years later, it seized on the issue of the Babri mosque and appealed to Hindus to destroy what it described as a symbol of Muslim oppression.

Its popularity soared and it was rewarded with 89 seats in the 1989 elections. In the mid-term poll of 1991, the BJP won an unprecedented 119 seats.

In 1992, the Babri mosque was demolished in the presence of Lal Krishna Advani - now deputy prime minister - and three other BJP leaders who are today cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's government.

In 1996, the BJP emerged as the single largest party in parliament, winning 161 seats out of 545. It is now firmly ensconced in power without any strong challengers.